Measuring Employee Engagement: How to Activate Your People - theEMPLOYEEapp

Last updated on December 16, 2022 at 03:02 pm

Measuring Employee Engagement: How to Activate Your People

When it comes to measuring engagement, what matters most is if we get people to take the right action. In this guide, we’ll review how to start measuring both employee engagement and employee activation.

engaged happy employee working in a grocery store


Employee engagement is a metric we’ve been tracking for decades. But engagement is a difficult metric because we don’t always agree on what it means.

Gallup defines an engaged worker as someone who is “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” But how we measure that commitment and enthusiasm can differ. To some, engagement measures if your people are happy. Others define it as enthusiastic participation in events and work functions. And then some think of engagement as productivity.

Confusing, right?

Despite our obsession with employee engagement, we aren’t moving the needle. Is that because our focus is too singular and not representative of the whole employee experience? Or is it because we’re measuring the wrong things, which impacts where we invest our time, focus our strategies, and spend our money?

In this guide, I’ll share how we can shift how we measure employee engagement with a focus on how we are activating employees to take desired actions.

Gallup state of workforce engagement graphic

How to Measure Employee Engagement

The way we’ve been trying to measure engagement hasn’t been working. Rather than focusing solely on an employee’s attitude or enthusiasm about work, we should shift to thinking about what those employees’ behaviors are. What are they actually doing?

Instead of just trying to get employees to be in a state of being “engaged” we should be trying to “activate” employees to take specific actions.

So, how do we start measuring employee engagement?

Common ways to measure employee engagement include:

  • Employee surveys (e.g. engagement surveys, pulse surveys)
  • Content engagements (e.g. email opens, video views, app sessions)
  • Focus groups

While these are great ways to collect data, it does not paint the whole picture. Many companies fall into the trap of measuring clicks, likes, and views and then stopping there. But these are vanity metrics on their own. They don’t actually measure what resulted from those initial actions.

That’s where measuring activation comes in.

What is Employee Activation?

We define Employee Activation as employees taking the desired action as a result of a campaign or message. 

And the key to activating your employees towards a specific result is to always start with the objective of each message you send. This goes beyond vanity metrics—like hoping 50% of employees open an email versus the 25% that opened the last one. Instead, you want to focus on the action within that email that you expect someone to take. 

Marketers do this very well. On every message, they have a clear Call to Action (CTA) that they measure success against. For example:  

  • Sign up for our newsletter for free tips! 
  • Register Here 
  • Buy now and save $100! 

And then marketing professionals measure how many people actually took that action. Of course, they care about opens and clicks too, but at the end of the day, success to a marketer hinges on someone signing up, registering for their event, making a purchase, etc. Because that’s the ultimate goal of their message. 

Marketers then use their results to continuously test and change strategy to get more people to take the desired action. 

Internal communications isn’t different. Every message we send has a desired effect. So, why are we so caught up in measuring clicks? Measuring employee engagement is far more complex than that.

Do, Say, Think, Feel 

To be successful measuring employee activation, you need to ground every message and campaign in SMART goals. 

A model we find very helpful for shifting towards this way of thinking is the Do, Say, Think, Feel Approach. The idea here is that every message should result in employees doing, saying, thinking, or feeling something particular. 

Watch this episode of Internal Comms TV to learn more about this method.

Changing Your Strategy When Measuring Employee Engagement

Moving your focus from engagement to activation might require you to change your communication strategy. And that makes sense. When you think about trying to activate an employee towards a certain action versus engaging that employee with your message, the approach is going to be different at the message and campaign level.

Here are a few strategies that we think help improve employee engagement and activation.

Leveraging Employee Influencers 

Employee influencers are the people within your company who have sway over other employees. Sometimes they are leaders, but they don’t have to be. The real criteria here is that other employees look to them for advice and follow their lead. 

Try to tap into these influencers to both learn from them and make them change champions who help encourage their peers to take action.

You can send messages all day long, but if the employees look around and don’t see anybody else acting upon what was just said, you’ve lost trust. You’ve lost momentum. And so, adjusting your approach to include targeted information to influencers, you may then see more employees taking the desired action in your communications.

Change Management 

Usually, when you send a message to employees, it’s not enough to include a little context and a CTA and then expect everyone to take action. 

Whenever you want action to be taken, remember that you are asking them to change. To either do a new action or change an old habit. So, it’s helpful to consider change management best practices. Whether it’s a large-scale change or behavior you’re hoping to adjust (e.g. adopting a new work process or technology) or a micro change (e.g. taking a survey or enrolling in benefits), consider the Prosci ADKAR® Model. 

  • Step One: Awareness. First things first, communicate what’s going on. Be sure to include the context and the why. 
  • Step Two: Desire. What motivates your employees? Who motivates them? What concerns will they have? Answer these questions and find out how you can overcome push-back. 
  • Step Three & Four: Knowledge & Ability. Sometimes people don’t take action because they don’t have the tools or knowledge needed to feel confident doing so. Focus on educating employees on a course of action even if it seems obvious.
  • Step Five: Reinforcement. Some people may take action immediately, no questions asked. But not everyone is like that. Keep reinforcing your message and take a page from Marketing’s playbook: test and learn.

Moving From Engagement to Activation Example

So, let’s walk through an example of how you might change your communications and approach to measurement to focus on activation rather than engagement. 

The Situation: It’s time for employee open enrollment! HR comes to you with the particulars that year—the deadline and the new benefits offerings. 

An Engagement Focus:

You schedule a cadence of messages and key deadlines for your team to create any educational materials and then you count message opens, clicks, time spent on each message, and report back to HR. 

An Activation Focus: 

  • Clarify HR’s goals. Are they hoping more employees enroll in a specific plan? Are they wanting to improve the percentage of employees who enroll on time? Who enrolled at all? Or are they really hoping to get ahead of the questions more so their team isn’t bogged down with questions and getting overtime? 
  • Identify key groups in the organization who will help support the message and drive action. In this case, maybe it’s HR Business partners on site, managers, and a few key influencers in each region. Can you do a focus group with these employees to give them some extra information? Can they help you understand the hangups that typically keep registration rates low or late? 
  • Try something new. Do you have a new channel to send this message through? Or is there a new medium you can send the message out as? Can you make enrollment fun? Embrace your inner marketer and try something that might not work—document the results and then try again! 
  • Measure continuously and not just at the end. Measuring activation is an active process. You want to be able to be agile and course-correct if your campaign isn’t going well. Check in with HR weekly to get the numbers based on whatever their goal is. 
  • Measure the right things. Keep an eye on those opens and what people are clicking on in your message. That gives you a sense of your reach. But simultaneously, measure those HR goals.

What’s In It For You?

When you’re putting together communications plans with activation and results as a focus, you present yourself as a strategic partner within your organization versus just being the writer, the editor, the email sender. 

You become the strategic communicator within the organization that knows how, when, and why to deliver messages a certain way in order to achieve business results. And that’s a big shift for a lot of people within their organizations. 

Today, many communicators may have departments coming to them at the last minute and asking for a message to be sent out ASAP. But when you position yourself as a strategic advisor, you can take a step back and say: Why send it then? What happens if I don’t send it today and I wait until our regular cadence? Is this really the right message that is optimized to get employees to act? 

By adopting this new approach, you show stakeholders that it’s not just about the delivery of the message. It’s about the results.